The extreme escalation of bombardment in the besieged area of eastern Ghouta in the past 72 hours has caused more than 200 civilian deaths and extensive damage to infrastructure—particularly hospitals, clinics, and shelters where civilians are taking refuge. 390,000 civilians are besieged under heavy shelling, airstrikes, and barrel bomb attacks in the enclave of eastern Ghouta, with dwindling water, food, and medical supplies.
A physical rehabilitation center from a partner organization of Humanity & Inclusion was destroyed after two separate bombardments. The first, on Tuesday, February 20, was a barrel bomb that partially destroyed the top floors. On Wednesday, February 21, a missile struck the center, destroying what remained. Families seeking safety in the center’s basement two floors below ground level had to be dug out—all alive—from the rubble where they were trapped for hours. Services from the center have been suspended.
In a separate incident an ambulance was hit, killing the doctor and nurse in the ambulance and injuring a child who was being transported to a medical facility.
A healthcare worker from a local Syrian organization told Humanity & Inclusion, “This week, the systematic bombing campaign escalated once more. We are forced to suspend our work caring for people who need physical therapy after suffering injuries in Eastern Ghouta. The only exception is that the ambulance team continues to respond to emergency needs despite the continued bombing. I also hope that all of you will contribute to conveying the voice of the citizens of this region. We appeal to all of you to end the killing and stop this criminal machine of war.”
Up to 100 civilians—staff, their families and neighbors—were taking shelter in the rehabilitation center as it was believed to be safer than staying in their own homes. Owing to the intense bombardment, humanitarian workers from other areas of the enclave remain unable to access the center for work, or for refuge, as the risk of being hit while in route is too high. The center normally serves on average 90 rehabilitation patients a month.
Thousands more remain trapped in their homes, unable to access adequate underground shelters or healthcare facilities. Humanitarian workers have to work in the middle of the night during lulls in bombardment in order to provide what little humanitarian aid they have after months of besiegement of civilians. Return fire from eastern Ghouta towards Damascus city center also resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians.
The severe surge in violence across Syria since January 2018 is some of the worst seen in years of conflict—particularly in Idlib, Afrin, and eastern Ghouta. These are all densely populated areas and local humanitarian workers and health professionals report to HI that there are increasing needs among the civilian populations in these areas who are trapped with no safe areas to flee to.
Humanity & Inclusion joins the call to the UN Security Council by the UN and other humanitarian organizations—both Syrian and international—for a ceasefire throughout Syria and a lifting of the existing sieges in Syria, including eastern Ghouta. HI also calls for sustained and increased humanitarian access throughout Syria including into besieged and hard to reach areas. Emergency medical evacuations need to be immediately allowed and conducted safely and regularly. Humanitarian actors working in Syria must be protected in line with International Humanitarian Law.
In September 2015, Humanity & Inclusion launched an international mobilizing campaign to end attacks on civilians. To this end, the organization has co-founded INEW (International Network on Explosive Weapons), a coalition of international and national organizations concerned by widespread harm on civilians from such weapons.
Since 2015, especially with its Stop Bombing Civilian petition, Humanity & Inclusion has been tirelessly advocating for states to take immediate action and develop a political instrument to reduce harm and increase the protection of civilians living through conflict, by stopping the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, and by providing a framework for assistance to victims including affected communities.
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Humanity & Inclusion and the Syrian crisis
More than 600,000 people have benefited from the actions taken by Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of Handicap International, as of Jan. 24, 2018) since the launch of the organization’s operations in 2012. The organization provides physical rehabilitation services and psychological support and distributes emergency aid to meet the basic needs of casualties, people with disabilities and particularly vulnerable individuals. Humanity & Inclusion also issues awareness-raising and safety messages targeted at local populations to prevent accidents caused by explosive remnants of war.
- Qasef: Escaping the bombing identifies indiscriminate bombing of civilians as the overriding factor forcing millions of Syrians to flee their homes. Based on interviews with Syrian refugees in July 2016, a document review, and expert interviews, the report identifies the large scale use of explosive weapons in populated areas as the most significant cause of the mass displacement of Syrians.
- The Hidden victims of the Syrian crisis report by Humanity & Inclusion and HelpAge International shows that Syrians with disabilities and older and injured Syrians are being left in the shadows of the humanitarian responses.